If it is true that all politics is local, then the recent English local elections have drastically affected the British political landscape, with far-reaching consequences for Europe. The rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is not simply blowing over. UKIP is in fact an English ‘nationalist party’ which - as a driving force against the EU-membership - deeply divides the United Kingdom.
The natural leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage (49), is a member of the European Parliament and sits just a few meters away from me. When I speak on behalf of the group of European Conservatives and Reformists, I sit next to Farage, leader of an anti-European group, which also includes the Dutch SGP. He is a funny guy, speaking with humour, but also with a sharp tongue during debates, in particular when figureheads of the 'European elite' are present. He considers himself a filibuster opposing both the European and the British establishment. He perorates and ridicules. Farage puts up a show arguing for a British exit of the EU and manages to hit all the sore spots of the anonymous bureaucracy. Outside of that, everything is jolly good, as long as a pint of beer stays within arm's reach.
For years Farage was depicted as a clown. Those days are over. He is reaping the fruits from the 'Stockholm syndrome' that influenced Tory leaders. Even long after the Thatcher tenure, British Conservatives kept being haunted by the label of 'nasty party': the heartless and cold party. Political opponents and the media hammered the point home, as the newly elected leader David Cameron had to steer his party back to the political centre through a narrative of compassion and fervour. He accepted the criticism and tried to turn the British Conservatives into the 'not nasty party'. He visited polar bears on the North Pole as part of the battle against climate change. The budget for development aid was ring-fenced, despite the crisis. He took a mild stance in relation to Europe, at least for British standards. Immigration was off limits as a topic during the elections, because it would come across as 'heartless'. The conservative English countryside started to stir. Cameron was paying more attention to the leftist newspaper The Guardian and the pro-European BBC than to sound and solid core of his electorate.